Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
It is always a perfect time to talk about leadership; just like it is always a good time to demonstrate it. This post will try to catch the essence of this elusive quality around which large corporations are built and complex global issues tackled. This is a subjective post because of the screen created by the ‘I’ through which I observe leadership.
“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences,” Susan B. Anthony. Susan travelled in the United States and Europe and gave 75 to 100 speeches a year on women’s rights for 45 years in the 19th century and she worked for more than 50 years for women to have the right to vote in the US.
The first subjective observation is that there is a distinction between being in a leadership position and having leadership qualities. Leadership does not come with the corner office or with a title that sounds impressive; it is a quality that a man brings to the office and not the other way round. I don’t think leaders need challenges to excel; that to me sounds like the police need gangs and crime to function and the intelligence agencies need terrorist plots in order to work well. Leadership can be seen in simple every day situations and the lack of it may not be that apparent in daily life but it gets exposed completely in a crisis. That is because a crisis is a test of character; and leadership has everything to do with character and almost nothing to do with position and power. Cut to the chase; leaders face the music.
One such crisis or rather devastation began on the night of November 26, 2008; when 10 drugged and systematically- programmed killing machines reached the shores of Bombay having navigated their way from the port city of Karachi. The 62 hours they survived in India’s financial capital have been the ‘suspended fatal hours’ around which the wounded consciousness of a nation has been hanging for over a year now.
One significant point has now become public knowledge; and that is the complete lack of leadership during those 62 hours. There was no one in command when the 10 trained terrorists armed to their teeth tore through the flesh of our complacency and carpe diem ethos. The Indian Express consistently did marvellous stories by picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the attacks and stories were also broken by Times of India, Hindustan Times, Hindu and many other Indian publications and also by some international news organisations. And from Tavleen Singh and Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express to Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times and Thomas Friedman and Patrick French in The New York Times, some brilliant columns challenged stated positions right through the year.
An AFP picture by Pedro Ugarte showed the anguish of a man with abundance of leadership qualities. It was Ratan Tata, looking up as the last of the flames were being doused and a lot of smoke was billowing from his over-a-century-old heritage, on the morning the torment ended and the last of the hell-bound jihadis had been taken out. It was a picture that captured a decisive man in a fleeting moment of agony and an indecisiveness borne out of factors beyond his control. When Ratan Tata later spoke to most of the TV channels and gave an interview to Fareed Zakaria on CNN there was no hint of indecisiveness and there was no dilemma about the road ahead. He spoke about the important things first and everything was so real about his manner and his concerns.
Our Booker heroine, Arundhati Roy, did a piece for the Guardian that had all the qualities of a good fiction writer struggling to come to terms with facts. “Thanks largely to the part it was forced to play as America’s ally first in its war in support of the Afghan Islamists and then in its war against them, Pakistan, whose territory is reeling under these contradictions, is careening towards civil war,” wrote Roy. What is the source of this assertion? The first instance was neither forced and nor run according to American wishes; Zia-ul-Haq was worried that Pakistan may get sandwiched between Russia on one side and India on the other and he wanted to take the war across the Khyber Pass to keep the Russians on their heels. He entrusted the ISI to manage the liaisons of Pakistan with the CIA and with Saudi Arabia’s GID (Saudi Intelligence Agency), headed by Prince Turki. The proselytizing Wahabi oil money through Saudi charities was also swelling and the ISI and its vault was at the centre of it all in the 1980s. This is sourced information available in many books and for key assertions the primary sources have been listed by a few journalists with immaculate sourcing, astonishing work ethic and a great understanding of nuance.
Lack of justice may have made it easy for the LeT to establish sleeper cells within India but this has not been a plan that would have been even whispered in front of those who provided fringe help. I don’t buy the theory that the terrorists picked their targets in Bombay because they were upset about the Indian Army being placed in war-torn Kupwara. Andrew G. Bostom, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Renal Diseases of Rhode Island Hospital, published a comprehensive and meticulously-documented book in 2005 named The Legacy of Jihad, Islamic Holy War and the fate of non-Muslims. Ibn Warraq in a foreword to the book wrote that ‘Dr Bostom has gathered together an impressive range of primary and secondary source documents relating to the theory and practice of jihad, and to a certain extent the condition of dhimmis, non-Muslims living as oppressed tributaries in Islamic countries’. It is a great work for those who can face facts and want to learn about them. “Andrew Bostom speaks of jihad as a ‘devastating institution,’ yet the evidence he provides demonstrates that jihad was also a devastatingly ‘effective’ institution,” Lee Harris wrote in his book The Suicide of Reason.
Was the angst in India about the fact that they also picked the high-end five-star hotels along with CST and those who have a voice made a lot of noise? Maybe 20 per cent of it had to do with that but I think 80 per cent of the anger was the result of being slaughtered by a neighbourhood butcher who just saw us napping in our own backyard. It was the unabashed nakedness of violence and our complete helplessness to deal with it that caused the outcry. Bombay gets me derailed every time and I’ll just say one more thing before coming back to leadership: The United States is not going to stand up for us if we don’t stand up for ourselves. Our leadership needs to realise this.
It is odd how so many people in leadership positions find it difficult to use the three hard-to-say phrases according to Mark McCormack and a fourth one according to me. “I don’t know, I need help, I was wrong, and I am sorry.” There is nothing wrong with any of the four phrases. I don’t know why people find it difficult to say I don’t know so I am not going to give any theory around it. But not admitting what you don’t know always leads to suspicions about what you do know.
My only global example for leadership quality is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela; just think about the man and what he did for South Africa in particular and for humanity at large. South African cricket writer Telford Vice was very busy recently in conducting a poll for an all-time great South African XI with separate introductions to various disciplines and the middle-order was a tight spot with many contenders. An edited extract: “The middle order is the archetypal South African batsman’s natural habitat, the place where push comes to shove for him. …Some South Africans seem stifled by technique, while a few make a mockery of it. The majority take the coaching manual as their guide to varying degrees, and conjure the rest as they go along.
There is something in the national character that relishes proving people wrong. South Africans appear to be better than most at realising that the light they see at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train, even when the rest of the world is convinced that it bloody well is.
This is, after all, the country that should have been broken by centuries of race hatred and inequality. It wasn’t. Then it became the country that should have been destroyed in the aftermath of those centuries of race hatred and inequality. Again, it wasn’t.
Instead, the centre of South African society held firm thanks to the leadership of a man whose north star was fairness and justice for all. In another world, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela would have made a middle-order batsman of the highest order. He’s not on our list of contenders for South Africa’s middle order, but those who have made it aren’t in the habit of letting people down either.”
Imagine saying this and meaning it: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
This is pure leadership quality without an ounce of the divisive politician.